I’ve been traveling ever since I was in my mother’s stomach, so traveling is second nature to me. I went on my first 14-hour flight by myself when I was 10 years old. But for someone who is just getting started to travel or plan a trip, it is probably very intimidating and overwhelming.
Where do you even start? What do you book first? I don’t really make any checklists since everything is all in my head, but I tried my hardest to articulate the steps that I take each time I travel below:
Note: I’ll have a separate post about specific travel tips, finding deals, international travel, local travel, road trips, travel apps, lists, etc. so this one is more just for how to plan a trip in general.
1. Research and Find Inspiration
This step of “how to plan a trip” is an ongoing process. It is a part of all the other steps because you have to constantly research. To get an idea of where you want to go, look at Instagram and check flight ticket prices constantly. Join Facebook travel groups. There are thousands of them. Think about the purpose of this trip. What do you want out of it? Why are you traveling? What do you want to see?
2. Set Your Dates
Without a date, you can’t really plan a trip or book anything (similar to planning a wedding). I personally have never planned anything more than 3 months in advance. Some people plan trips 6 months to 1 year out. Choosing a date all depends on your flexibility and funds. If you’re planning to do a bigger trip, you might need more time to save money for it or might need more time to ask your boss to take time off unless YOU’RE THE BOSS then damn girl, you do you. Decide how long your trip will be and keep in mind how far the destination is from your departure location. Travel time can eat through the hours when you could be laying on the beach while sipping on a margarita.
- Tip: If you have more flexibility, then you don’t usually have to plan way ahead of time. Accommodations and tickets are also cheaper during off season (colder months and rainy season).
- Tip: If you don’t have a lot of paid time off, try to plan your trips around national holidays and weekends. If you’re in the US, think Memorial Day weekend, thanksgiving, July 4, etc.
3. Set Your Budget
Set your budget (or maybe you don’t have a budget since you are just swimming in money. In that case skip this step). But for most people, this step is the biggest determining factor when planning a trip. Ask yourself if you will be eating out for each meal during your trip. Are you staying with a friend or family? Hostel? Airbnb? Hotel? Are some of the sites you’ll see free?
- Tip: To have a general idea of your spending, calculate: (Accommodation + food + drinks + activities + transportation + souvenirs) x nights x number of people
- Tip: Always extra cash or credit card for emergency situations. Try to place cash and credit cards in different pockets or locations.
4. Pick The Locations
Decide where you are going! For international flights, always check if a visa is required. This should be fun because the choices are endless! This is all personal preference, but it’s always good to ask people who has been to the place(s) that you’re thinking of to get some tips and suggestions.
Trying to decide how many cities or countries to visit? I see this question all the time. I have done 5 European countries in 13 days, but I have also stayed in 1 city for 2 weeks. You have to consider the amount of time that you have and decide if you want this trip to be relaxing or you want to make the most out of each day and see everything or a combination of both.
Everyone has different needs and give each trip a different purpose. When you pack a lot of activities in one trip, expect it to be tiresome and there is a possibility of you getting sick. BUT if you really only have 2 weeks to see everything, then it might be worth it.
Decide what is important to you and what you can handle. A laid-back vacation might be too boring for you or maybe that is what you need. You can also plan around food and let the rest fall into place.
5. Book Your Flight
Book your flightif it’s long distance or international. You can’t book your flight unless you have the first 2 steps—which I think are the hardest decisions to make. I typically use google flights and Skyscanner and I always make sure that my browser is on incognito mode. Once you book your flight, everything else comes together. This is my favorite step because every time I book a flight, my heart always drops. I’ll share a more detailed booking tips in another post.
6. Build An Itinerary
Like the other steps, this step is based on personal preference. Some people like very structured trips, or if you’re like me, you just kinda wing it everytime and hope for the best. Do you like tours? Do you like doing your own thing? If you’re going to the beach, are you just going to be sunbathing all day or are you wanting to go snorkeling or island hopping?
- Tip: This is also based on the amount of time that you have. If you only have a couple of days, it is probably smarter to plan everything ahead of time, so you don’t waste your time figuring out what to do. When I backpacked with my husband for 3 months, I only planned the first week.
- Tip: There are activities that need to be reserved in advanced like going to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, but there are some that you can book 24-48 hours before and be just fine. So, just do your research.
7. Book Your Accomodations
Now that you know your itinerary and have an idea of where most of your activities will be, you can decide where you want to stay. Do you want to be close to the city center? If you’re visiting 2 cities, does it make sense to book an accommodation in between the 2 places? All up to you, love.
If I am being honest, I usually book this last and ignore it until last minute. I am never in a hurry to book this unless the dates are pretty firm and the weather is sunny. I say this because sometimes flights get cancelled and you can’t cancel your hotel. One time, I was driving to San Diego from Phoenix, and there was a major highway accident that closed the entire thing, so I wasn’t able to make it. Luckily, my hotel was nice enough to cancel for me when I called them, but a lot of times you will lose money when you book hotels ahead of time if you can’t make it.
If you are traveling during the holidays especially in the summer or around Christmas time, it makes sense to book months in advance. If you are backpacking or traveling for a long period of time with no itinerary, it is pretty easy to book the same day or less than 2 weeks before. Do whatever is comfortable with you.
Figure out how you are getting to places. Are you renting a car? Ubering? Is there even Uber where you’re going? In Asia, they have Grab. Is there a metro? What is the safest? Do you research.
I personally pack less than 24 hours before any trip. I procrastinate until it is time to go. If you are a new traveler, start slowly packing about a week before. I’ll be creating a packing list and tips on how to pack light.
10. Breathe And Get Excited
The anticipation while planning a trip, gives me such a rush. The moment I book a flight, I am unable to focus on anything else. Don’t forget to breathe and remember that if your trip doesn’t go as planned, everything always comes together.
Now that you have these steps on how to plan a trip, comment below with your next trip destination! Where are you going and what is the purpose of your trip?